Ethics complaint against Frisco mayor, council members over COVID-19 precautions dismissed

An ethics complaint against Frisco’s mayor and three City Council members was dismissed in a 3-0 vote on Jan. 5. (Screenshot courtesy city of Frisco)
An ethics complaint against Frisco’s mayor and three City Council members was dismissed in a 3-0 vote on Jan. 5. (Screenshot courtesy city of Frisco)

An ethics complaint against Frisco’s mayor and three City Council members was dismissed in a 3-0 vote on Jan. 5. (Screenshot courtesy city of Frisco)

An ethics complaint against Frisco’s mayor and three City Council members was dismissed in a 3-0 vote that was met with applause from many in the audience.

Frisco council members received a report at their Jan. 5 council meeting from City Attorney Richard Abernathy regarding a complaint filed against Mayor Jeff Cheney and council members John Keating, Brian Livingston and Dan Stricklin.

The complaint, filed by Martin Woodward on Dec. 14, alleged that during one or more public gatherings the elected officials failed to wear face masks and maintain social distance, threatening public health amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Woodward shared his complaint with Community Impact Newspaper on Dec. 9. He said that the officials' actions erode confidence in the government and that they’ve given the public the impression that Frisco doesn’t care about public health and safety.

“The persistence of the COVID-19 pandemic has made this a particularly fraught time,” Woodward said via email in his complaint. “Simply put, if that is not an Ethics Code violation, nothing is, and the Code is illusory and pointless.”

Events listed in the complaint included one on Dec. 4 at Stonebriar Country Club and another on Dec. 10 at the Verona Villa venue.

Abernathy said the filer of the complaint ultimately failed to provide any “sufficient evidence” to indicate any ethics code violation. Moreover, Abernathy said the city's ethics regulations are not applicable to what’s alleged in the complaint because no ethics laws reference wearing masks or maintaining social distancing.

“Accordingly, we find that the allegations of the complaint against each of these individuals, even if true, would not constitute a violation of the ordinance,” Abernathy said.

Because the mayor and three council members were named in the complaint, they recused themselves from the discussion. The 3-0 vote to dismiss the complaint came from the remaining council members, Will Sowell, Shona Huffman and Bill Woodard.

All five people who spoke during public comment after Abernathy’s report strongly chastised Woodward’s ethics complaint. Woodward did not attend the meeting.

Rob Altman II of the Frisco Veterans Advisory Committee attended one of the events cited in the complaint. He said those behind the complaint failed to see 100-plus bottles of individual hand sanitizer and other safety measures.

“It is a partisan political stunt and nothing more,” Altman said of the complaint.

Frisco resident David Rostcheck said rights should be prioritized over safety.

“I’m concerned that this discussion of safety in the COVID[-19] era assumes that safety trumps rights. And it simply doesn’t,” Rostcheck said. “I would be safer, for example, if none of you drove, but I don’t have the right to force you all to not drive.”

After the vote to dismiss, Cheney returned to his seat at the dais. He said that the council welcomes public criticism and that he’s proud to have served with peers who have had to navigate a difficult year.

“We do ask that everyone in Frisco show each other grace and support as we work to get through this together,” Cheney said. “And I know there's differences of opinions throughout the community on the right things to do. We ask for everyone to be respectful of one another and show grace.”
By Matt Payne
Matt Payne reports on Frisco City Hall and its committees, Collin County Commissioners and McKinney business. His experience includes serving as online content editor at Fort Worth Magazine and city editor at the Killeen Daily Herald. He is a 2017 graduate of the Frank W. and Sue Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas in Denton.


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